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"Pallava" redirects here. For other uses, see Pallava (disambiguation).
Pallava Empire

2nd–9th century CE
Pallava territories during Narasimhavarman I c. 645 CE. This includes the Chalukya territories occupied by the Pallavas.
Capital Kanchi
Languages Tamil, Sanskrit
Religion Hinduism
Government Monarchy
 -  555–590 CE Simhavishnu
 -  882–897 CE Aparajitavarman
Historical era Ancient-Middle Ages
 -  Established 2nd
 -  Disestablished 9th century CE
Today part of  India

The Pallava dynasty existed between the 2nd and 9th centuries CE, ruling a portion of what is today southern India. They gained prominence after the eclipse of the Satavahana dynasty, whom the Pallavas served as feudatories.[1][2] A number of legends are associated with their origin.


The Three Crowned Kings refers to the triumvirate of the Chola, Chera and Pandya dynasties, which dominated politics of the ancient Tamil country, Tamilakam, which was made up of the regions of Chola Nadu, Chera Nadu and Pandya Nadu. The Pallavas found no mention as indigenous rulers as they are offshoot of the other kingdoms . The earliest Tamil literature which throws light on a region associated with the Pallavas is Ahananuru which identifies two Tiriyans — the elder Tiriyan in Gudur, Nellore district, with a kingdom extending to Tirupati or Thiruvengadam; and the younger Tiraiyan whose capital was Kanchipuram.[3] The Sangam work, Perumbanarruppatai, traces the line of the younger Tiriyan (also known as Ilam Tiriyan) to the Solar dynasty of Ikshvakus; later Tamil commentators identify him as the illegitimate child of a Chola king and a Naga princess.[3]

There are several communities in Kalahasti and Thirupathi area which were compensated to Andhra during state partition which belongs to Tondaiman clan, who are Tamils. PT Srinivasa Iyengar states 'Tondaiyar' means the "tribe whose symbol was the Tondai creeper".[4] Tondai or Coccinia indica is commonly known as Kōvai in Tamil in modern times, but the name Doṇḍe is the ordinary name for the plant in Telugu. However, Telugu did not exist during Pallava rule.[4] Synonyms of Doṇḍe, Tonde or Tondai (Coccinia indica) are Cephalandra indica and Coccinia grandis.

The Proceedings of the First Annual Conference of South Indian History Congress also notes: The word Tondai means a creeper and the term Pallava conveys a similar meaning.[5] Since Pallavas ruled in the territory extending from Bellary to Bezwada, it led to the probability of a theory that the Pallavas were a northern dynasty who having contracted marriages with princesses of the Andhra Dynasty inherited a portion of Southern Andhra Pradesh.[6][7]

KA Nilakanta Sastri postulated that Pallavas were descendants of a North Indian dynasty of Indian origin who moved down South, adopted local traditions to their own use, and named themselves after the land called Tondai as Tondaiyar.[5][8] KP Jayaswal also proposed a North Indian origin for them, putting forward the theory that the Pallavas were a branch of the Vakatakas.[5] The association with Vakatakas is corroborated by the fact that the Pallavas adopted imperial Vakataka heraldic marks, as is evident from Pallava insignia. The Pallavas had on their seal, the Ganga and Yamuna, known to be Vakataka insignia.[9]

A Sangam Period classic, Manimekhalai, attributes the origin of the first Pallava King from a liaison between the daughter of a Naga king of Manipallava named Pilli Valai (Pilivalai), with a Chola King Killivalavan, out of which union was born a prince,[6] who was lost in ship wreck and found with a twig (pallava) of Cephallandra indica (Tondai) around his ankle and hence named Tondai-man.[6] Another version states "Pallava" was born from the union of the Brahmin Asvathama with a Naga Princess[6] also supposedly supported in the sixth verse of the Bahur plates which states "From Asvathama was born the king named Pallava".[6] The Pallavas themselves claimed to descend from Brahma and Asvathama.[10]

Though Manimekhalai posits Ilam Tiriyan as a Chola, not a Pallava, historically however, the Velurpalaiyam plates dated to 852 CE, does not mention the Cholas. Instead it credits the Naga liaison episode, and creation of the Pallava line, to a different Pallava king named Virakurcha, while preserving its legitimizing significance:[11]
...from him (Aśvatthāman) in order (came) Pallava, the lord of the whole earth, whose fame was bewildering. Thence, came into existence the race of Pallavas... [including the son of Chūtapallava] Vīrakūrcha, of celebrated name, who simultaneously with (the hand of) the daughter of the chief of serpents grasped also the complete insignia of royalty and became famous.
Historically, early relations between Nagas and Pallavas became well established before the myth of Pallava's birth to Ashwatthama took root.[12] A praśasti (literally "praise"), composed in 753 CE on the dynastic eulogy in the Kasakadi (Kasakudi) plates, by the Pallava Trivikrama, traces the Pallava lineage from creation through a series of mythic progenitors, and then praises the dynasty in terms of two similes hinged together by triple use of the word avatara ("descent"), as below:[11]
From [them] descended the powerful, spotless Pallava dynasty [vaṁśāvatāra], which resembled a partial incarnation [aṃśāvatāra] of Visnu, as it displayed unbroken courage in conquering the circle of the world...and which resembled the descent of the Ganges [gaṅgāvatāra] as it purified the whole world.

Historian KR Subramanian states the Pallavas were originally not a Tamil power, they were a Telugu power; and Telugu Sources know of a Trilochana Pallava.[13] Trilochana Pallava was killed by a Chalukya King near Mudivemu, Cuddapah District. A Buddhist story describes Kala the Nagaraja, resembling the Pallava Kalabhartar as a king of the region near Krishna district. The Pallava Bogga may be identified with the kingdom of Kala in Andhra which had close and early maritime and cultural relations with Ceylon.[12] Rev Heras also identified King Bappa with Kalabhartar (aka Kalabhartri), "the head jewel of the family", whom Rev Heras proposes as the founder of the dynasty, detecting in the references to Bappa in the Hirahadagalli and Uruvapalli plates, "the flavour of antiquity and veneration which always surround the memory of the founder of a dynasty".[14]

The earliest inscriptions of the Pallavas were found in the districts of Bellary, Guntur and Nellore.[12] After a careful study of Pallava genealogy with all the available material, of no less than 45 inscriptions, Rev. H. Heras put forth the theory that there was an unbroken line of Pallava kings, twenty-four of them in number, who originally ruled at some city of the Telugu country, possibly at Dasanapura, which the Darsi Copper Plates state as their adhisthana.[14] Dasanapura has been identified as Darsi, in Nellore district.[15][16]

Control of Regions between different Tamil Kings

The Velurpalaiyam Plates state this of the Pallava, Simhavishnu:[17]
He quickly seized the country of the Cholas embellished by the daughter of Kavira (i.e. the river Kaveri), whose ornaments are the forests of paddy (fields), and where (are found) brilliant groves of areca (palms).
The Chola country did not originally belong to the Pallavas and it was the Pallava King, Simhavishnu, who captured the Chola country.[17] This military operation was opposed by many southern kings which can be discerned from the Kasakudi Plates which state that Simhavishnu vanquished the following rulers:[17]
The Malaya, Kalabhra, Malava, Chola and Pandya (kings), the Simhala (king) who was proud of the strength of his arms, and the Keralas.

The Pallavas captured Kanchi from the Cholas as recorded in the Velurpalaiyam Plates, around the reign of the fifth king of the Pallava line Kumaravishnu I.[14] Thereafter Kanchi figures in inscriptions as the capital of the Pallavas.[14] The Cholas drove the Pallavas away from Kanchi in the mid-4th century CE, in the reign of Vishugopa, the tenth king of the Pallava line.[14] The Pallavas re-captured Kanchi in the mid-6th century, possibly in the reign of Simhavishnu, the fourteenth king of the Pallava line, whom the Kasakudi plates state as "the lion of the earth". Thereafter the Pallavas held on to Kanchi till the 9th century CE, till the reign of their last king, Vijaya-Nripatungavarman.[14]

Other conquests and expansions

The Pallavas were in conflict with major kingdoms at various periods of time. A contest for political supremacy existed between the early Pallavas and the Kadambas. Numerous Kadamba inscriptions provide details of Pallava-Kadamba hostlities.[18] The Pallavas also contracted matrimonial relationships with Kadambas. According to the Velurpalaiyam Plates the mother of the Pallava king Nandivarman was a Kadamba princess named Aggalanimmati. The Velurpalaiyam Plates also state that Nandivarman had to fight for his father's throne.[19]

During the reign of Vishnugopavarman II (approx. 500-525 CE), political convulsion engulfed the Pallavas due to the Kalabhra invasion of the Tamil country.[20] Towards the close of the 6th century, the Pallava Simhavishnu stuck a blow against the Kalabhras. The Pandyas followed suit. Thereafter the Tamil country was divided between the Pallavas in the north with Kanchipuram as their capital, and Pandyas in the south with Madurai as their capital.[20]


The royal custom of using a series of descriptive honorific titles, birudas, was particularly prevalent among the Pallavas. The birudas of Mahendravarman I are in Sanskrit, Tamil and Telugu. The Telugu birudas show Mahendravarman's involvement with the Andhra region continued to be strong at the time he was creating his cave-temples in the Tamil region.[21] The suffix "Malla" was used by the Pallava rulers.[21] Mahendravarman I used the biruda, Satrumalla, "a warrior who overthrows his enemies", and his grandson Paramesvara I was called Ekamalla "the sole warrior or wrestler". Pallavas kings, persumably exalted ones, were known by their title, Mahamalla or the "great wrestler".[11]

Languages used

All the early Pallava royal inscriptions are either in Prakrit or in Sanskrit language, considered the official languages of the dynasty while the official script was Pallava grantha.[22] Similarly, inscriptions found in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka State are in Prakrit and not in Telugu or Kannada.[22] The phenomenon of using Prakrit and Sanskrit as official languages in which rulers left their inscriptions and epigraphies continued till the 6th century CE. It would have been in the interest of the ruling elite to protect their privileges by perpetuating their hegemony of Prakrit in order to exclude the common people from sharing power (Mahadevan 1995a: 173-188). The Pallavas in their Tamil country also adopted the same method. They used Sanskrit language and Pallava grantha scripts in their official orders.

Writing system

Under the Pallava dynasty, a unique form of Southern Brahmi script developed. Around the 6th century CE, it was exported eastwards and influenced the genesis of almost all Southeast Asian scripts.

Main article: Pallava alphabet

Pallava Chronology

Main article: Origin of Pallava

Early Pallavas

The history of the early Pallavas has not yet been satisfactorily settled. The earliest documentation on the Pallavas is the three copper-plate grants, now referred to as the Mayidavolu, Hirahadagalli and the British Museum plates (Durga Prasad, 1988) belonging to Skandavarman I and written in Prakrit.[23] Skandavarman appears to have been the first great ruler of the early Pallavas, though there are references to other early Pallavas who were probably predecessors of Skandavarman.[24] Skandavarman extended his dominions from the Krishna in the north to the Pennar in the south and to the Bellary district in the West. He performed the Aswamedha and other Vedic sacrifices and bore the title of 'Supreme King of Kings devoted to dharma'.[23]

In the reign of Simhavarman IV, who ascended the throne in 436 CE, the territories lost to the Vishnukundins in the north up to the mouth of the Krishna were recovered. The early Pallava history from this period onwards is furnished by a dozen or so copper-plate grants in Sanskrit. They are all dated in the regnal years of the kings.[25]

The following chronology is gathered from these three charters:[25]

  • Simhavarman I 275–300 CE
  • Skandavarman
  • Visnugopa 350 – 355 CE
  • Kumaravishnu I 350–370 CE
  • Skandavarman II 370–385 CE
  • Viravarman 385–400 CE
  • Skandavarman III 400–436 CE
  • Simhavarman II 436–460 CE
  • Skandavarman IV 460–480 CE
  • Nandivarman I 480–510 CE
  • Kumaravishnu II 510–530 CE
  • Buddhavarman 530–540 CE
  • Kumaravishnu III 540–550 CE
  • Simhavarman III 550–560 CE

Later Pallavas

The incursion of the Kalabhras and the confusion in the Tamil country was broken by the Pandya Kadungon and the Pallava Simhavishnu.[26] Mahendravarman I re-established the Pallava Kingdom after defeating the Kalabhras. Some of the most ornate monuments at Mamallapuram, were constructed under the rule of King Mahendravarman I. The Pallava kingdom began to gain both in territory and influence and were a regional power by the end of the 6th century, defeating kings of Ceylon and mainland Tamilakkam.[27]

Narasimhavarman I and Paramesvaravarman I were the kings who stand out with glorious achievements in both military and architectural spheres. Narasimhavarman II built the Shore Temple.

List of later Pallavas:

The Genealogy of Pallavas mentioned in the Māmallapuram Praśasti is as follows:[11]

  • Vishnu
  • Brahma
  • Unknown / undecipherable
  • Unknown / undecipherable
  • Bharadvaja
  • Drona
  • Ashvatthaman
  • Pallava
  • Unknown / undecipherable
  • Unknown / undecipherable
  • Simhavarman I (c. 275 CE)
  • Unknown / undecipherable
  • Unknown / undecipherable
  • Simhavarman IV (436 CE — c. 460 CE)
  • Unknown / undecipherable
  • Unknown / undecipherable
  • Skandashishya
  • Unknown / undecipherable
  • Unknown / undecipherable
  • Simhavisnu (c. 550-585 CE)
  • Mahendravarman I (c. 571-630 CE)
  • Maha-malla Narasimhavarman I (630-668 CE)
  • Unknown / undecipherable
  • Paramesvaravarman I (669-690 CE)
  • Rajasimha Narasimhavaram II (690-728 CE)
  • Unknown / undecipherable
  • Pallavamalla Nandivarman II (731-796 CE)
  • Unknown / undecipherable
  • Nandivarman III (846-69)
According to the available inscriptions of the Pallavas, historian S.Krishnaswami Aiyangar proposes the Pallavas could be divided into four separate families or dynasties; some of whose connections are known and some unknown.[28] Aiyangar states
We have a certain number of charters in Prakrit of which three are important ones. Then follows a dynasty which issued their charters in Sanskrit; following this came the family of the great Pallavas beginning with Simha Vishnu; this was followed by a dynasty of the usurper Nandi Varman, another great Pallava. We are overlooking for the present the dynasty of the Ganga-Pallavas postulated by the Epigraphists. The earliest of these Pallava charters is the one known as the Mayidavolu 1 (Guntur district) copper-plates.

Based on a combination of dynastic plates and grants from the period, Aiyangar proposed their rule thus:

Early Pallavas

  • Bappa - Virakurcha — married a Naga of Mavilanga (Kanchi) - The Great Founder of a Pallava lineage
  • Simha Varman I (275–300 or 315–345)
  • Skanda Varman I (345–355) (Shivaskandavarman)

Middle Pallavas

  • Visnugopa (340–355) (Yuvamaharaja Vishnugopa)
  • Kumaravisnu I (355–370)
  • Skanda Varman II (370–385)
  • Vira Varman (385–400)
  • Skanda Varman III (400–435)
  • Simha Varman II (435–460)
  • Skanda Varman IV (460–480)
  • Nandi Varman I (480–500)
  • Kumaravisnu II (c. 500–510)
  • Buddha Varman (c. 510–520)
  • Kumaravisnu III (c. 520–530)
  • Simha Varman III (c. 530–537)

Later Pallavas

Other relationships

Pallava royal lineages were established in the old kingdom of Kedah of the Malay Peninsula under Rudravarman I, Chenla under Bhavavarman I, Champa under Bhadravarman I and the Kaundinya-Gunavarman line of the Funan in Cambodia, eventually their rule growing to form the Khmer Empire. These dynasties' unique Dravidian architectural style was introduced to build Angor Wat while Tamil cultural norms spread across the continent, their surviving epigraphic inscriptions recording domestic societal life and their pivotal role in Asian trade routes.[29]


Pallavas were followers of Hinduism and made gifts of land to gods and Brahmins. In line with the prevalent customs, some of the rulers performed the Aswamedha and other Vedic sacrifices.[25] They were, however, tolerant of other faiths. The Chinese monk Xuanzang who visited Kanchipuram during the reign of Narasimhavarman I reported that there were 100 Buddhist monasteries, and 80 temples in Kanchipuram.[30]

Mahendravarman I was initially a patron of the Jain faith. He later converted to Hinduism under the influence of the Saiva saint Appar with the revival of Hinduism during the Bhakti movement in South India.

Pallava architecture

The Pallavas were instrumental in the transition from rock-cut architecture to stone temples. The earliest examples of Pallava constructions are rock-cut temples dating from 610–690 CE and structural temples between 690–900 CE. A number of rock-cut cave temples bear the inscription of the Pallava king, Mahendravarman I and his successors.[31]

The greatest accomplishments of the Pallava architecture are the rock-cut temples at Mahabalipuram. There are excavated pillared halls and monolithic shrines known as rathas in Mahabalipuram. Early temples were mostly dedicated to Shiva. The Kailasanatha temple in Kanchipuram and the Shore Temple built by Narasimhavarman II, rock cut temple in Mahendravadi by Mahendravarman are fine examples of the Pallava style temples.[32] The temple of Nalanda Gedige in Kandy, Sri Lanka is another. The famous Tondeswaram temple of Tenavarai and the ancient Koneswaram temple of Trincomalee were patronized and structurally developed by the Pallavas in the 7th century.

See also

Classical India
Timeline: Northwestern India Northern India Southern India Northeastern India

 6th century BCE
 5th century BCE
 4th century BCE

 3rd century BCE
 2nd century BCE

 1st century BCE
 1st century CE

 2nd century
 3rd century
 4th century
 5th century
 6th century
 7th century
 8th century
 9th century
10th century
11th century

(Persian rule)
(Greek conquests)

(Islamic conquests)

(Islamic Empire)



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